I can’t count, even with the aid of all my fingers and ugly toes, the many occasions in which I’ve travelled to a foreign destination on my own. There was my virgin move abroad to Europe at eighteen, trips to the United States, and exploits in India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia, the Middle East, China and Japan. I've often independently moved to foreign lands and set up life anew. I used to escape the chaos of London with jaunts to the European continent, and explored Italy intimately while based in Rome. There were big adventures, such as travelling overland from Cairo to Cape Town, and smaller achievements like driving myself around New Zealand's North Island.
As I embark on yet another solo adventure, there are a few reservations that occupy the small, dark subconscious space at the back of my mind. Needless to say, the few reservations I do have, at times, instil within me a sense of hesitation. I personally place a lot of value in the rewards one can yield from travel. It is a past-time, or rather lifestyle, that has shaped much of the person I have become. But traveling alone hasn't been and is not always easy; awkward moments have had to shape my character, and they continue to develop my sense of intrepid travel independence. The misadventures have also, at times, caused foreboding before boarding the plane and heading to yet another foreign country - alone.
However, following the first instance in which I got lost on my own, turned the map upside down and centred myself, I realised I had the competence to stare almost any challenge in the face, climb over or around the obstacle and get a result. It may be simpler to achieve when surrounded by others, but it's certainly not impossible while soloing. When faced with challenging situations, such as the sudden cancellation of flights, realising bank cards don't work and you're without cash, or learning that the hostel is fully booked and you don't have a reservation, take a deep breath. Reflect briefly on the past and instances of stoicism, and proceed. There are always options, and you have a voice: ask for help.
I distinctly remember the feeling of dread that washed over me shortly after arriving in Addis Ababa: I learned that my MasterCard wouldn't work. I had no money, and no access to any funds in other accounts. I took the advice aforementioned, asked people for help and - within two days - had money wired to me from friends in Italy. I used my sense of reason and intuition, and survived. Locals have always been helpful, particularly when the familiar look of panic plasters itself over my face.
The travel experiences I've had have fortified me and instilled resilience. I have come to expect the occurrence of particular situations and, rather than allowing them to deter me from doing what I love, have reflected on past experience and moved forward. After seventy-two countries and thirteen years of globetrotting, I have developed an almost ritualistic way of traveling; I guess it's to be expected, and it gets me through. More importantly, travelling independently brings me joy.
On a philosophical note, it's important to underscore the difference between travelling alone and feeling lonely while abroad. People often look quizzically at me when I recount details of journeys undertaken on my own. There is a distinction between the two similar words, and it's an important divide to remember. Being alone, according to dictionary.com means "separate, apart, or isolated from others."
Lonely, however, is "affected with, characterised by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome." Although related, they're clearly not synonymous. Alone abroad indicates independence, physically, from other people; soloing, according to some travel writers. When used in reference to travel, it can denote freedom. No inference is made to the melancholic emotional state of loneliness. Being lonely, on the other hand, denotes a negative emotion: negative thoughts abound and outweigh positive ones. It can arise for various reasons, such as homesickness, or excessive dwelling on what's been left behind.
Either can be experienced at any given point in time, but they don't necessarily occur symbiotically. One can feel lonely when surrounded by a group of travel counterparts. Conversely, I usually feel centred in place and time walking the streets, eating in a restaurant or taking public transport on my own in a foreign country. With travel experience comes valor, and strength of character. In a global and fast-paced society, it's rare that you'll be alone for long, unless hiking a remote volcano, climbing a tree in the Amazon Rainforest or riding across the desert on the back of a lumpy camel. Interaction occurs frequently - if unafraid to speak - so solo travel frequently morphs into companion travel, sometimes for a significant period of time. I regularly meet likeminded travellers while abroad who are delighted to share an hour, a day or sometimes even a week in each other's company.
There are many more examples of soloing I could share. However, I could tell a thousand stories on the subject and never convince you to take the plunge. It's a personal choice, and one that must be carefully evaluated. I'm just glad I took the dive into solo waters when I was eighteen; I've never looked back. You won't know how rewarding it can be until you indulge your curiosity and dive headfirst into the world of solo travel.
The moral of the story is this: be brave, book a solo adventure, and you'll see the world through different eyes. More importantly, you may never again want to travel the world the way in which you did before.